Shortlist of 'eccentrics' for Mercury music prize

The runners and riders for the most prestigious prize in the music calendar were announced yesterday and were promptly branded a group of British eccentrics by the chairman of the judging panel.

The runners and riders for the most prestigious prize in the music calendar were announced yesterday and were promptly branded a group of British eccentrics by the chairman of the judging panel.

This year's shortlist for the Nationwide Mercury music prize includes a teenage soul singer from rural Devon, a rock band without guitars, a dance group with a punk vocalist and a rapper so anti-bling he hangs around at bus stops.

The book-maker William Hill immediately listed the bus-stop rhymer (Mike Skinner, aka The Streets) and the avant-garde Glasgow art school rockers Franz Ferdinand as the joint favourites to win.

Simon Frith, chairman of the judging panel, admitted yesterday he had been slightly concerned that the past 12 months had not produced sufficient good music to make a strong short-list. He said: "There were no obvious albums being trumpeted. But ... the pattern is that every single person on this list is sort of eccentric in certain ways. It's very British."

Mr Frith said none of the nominated artists were conventional representatives of the genres they were most closely associated with. "Although they make music that can be marketed in terms of genre, they are all doing music which would not necessarily fit that genre."

Asked about the two early favourites, Mr Frith said both had demonstrated they could bring something fresh to the type of music they make. The Streets' new album A Grand Don't Come For Free could not be categorised as "a garage or British club scene album", the references associated with Skinner's earlier work, Mr Frith said. Franz Ferdinand, he said, brought a "sensibility" to their music that has not been seen on the Mercury shortlist since the days of Pulp and Suede.

At the announcement of the shortlist, one of the nominated bands, Belle & Sebastian, recognised the role of Franz Ferdinand in developing the Glasgow music scene, which has also helped to produce a third nominee, Snow Patrol.

Stuart Murdoch, Belle & Sebastian's singer-songwriter, said: "It has been quite a good time for Glasgow. Scene is always a difficult word but, led by Franz, it has been a good scene over the past couple of years. We have been hanging around like a bad smell for years and have finally got a nomination."

Liverpool's The Zutons had been lured to the ceremony under the impression that they were headed to a recording session. The drummer, Sean Payne, said he was pleased to be "recognised" by a competition that supported "real music". "When Roni Size won [The Mercury Prize], I had never heard of him before," he said. "It gets music that's underground to be listened to more."

Alex Kapranos, singer and guitarist for Franz Ferdinand, said: "It's a real vindication for the year's hard work we have just put in."

Last year's Mercury was won by the "grimy" rapper Dizzee Rascal. This year's shortlist was chosen from 1,800 albums released in the past 12 months by British and Irish artists. But in any list of great British musical eccentrics one name was conspicuous by its absence. Morrissey has made 2004 his return year, conquering Glastonbury, curating London's Meltdown Festival and releasing the acclaimed album First of the Gang to Die. The winner will be chosen on 7 September.

IN THE RUNNING

BASEMENT JAXX, Kish Kash

Previously shortlisted for the Mercury Prize for their album Rooty, the Brixtonduo, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton, are Britain's leading dance act. Their latest album features collaborations with as diverse singers as Siouxsie Sioux, Dizzee Rascal and Me'Shell Ndegeocello.

Judges' verdict: "British dance music is alive and kicking."

BELLE & SEBASTIAN, Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Another nomination for Glasgow's thriving music scene, the seven-piece band were formed in an all-night café eight years ago. Their sixth studio album was produced by Trevor Horn, once of Buggles.

Judges' verdict: "An enchanting reminder of the romance of witty and elegant pop songs."

FRANZ FERDINAND, Franz Ferdinand

The band of 2004 so far, their much-hyped debut album has lived up to all expectations and already sold more than a million copies since its release in February. At the forefront of a revived Scottish music scene, they were one of the most successful acts at this year's Glastonbury festival.

Judges' verdict: "Art pop masterpiece."

JAMELIA, Thank You

Still only 23, Jamelia has worked hard to claim her crown as the Queen of British R&B, and still found time to have a baby. Loved by the mainstream, the Birmingham girl's second album includes work with Coldplay's Chris Martin and So Solid Crew's Asher D.

Judges' verdict: "Urban music that sparkles with unusual subtlety and depth."

KEANE, Hopes and Fears

For a rock band, Keane have an unconventional line-up of vocals, piano and drums. The East Sussex group was formed in 1997 and were on tour in America last month when they heard Hopes and Fears had gone to number one in the British charts.

Judges' verdict: "A supremely confident debut unveiling a stunning new British rock voice."

SNOW PATROL, Final Straw

Originating in Northern Ireland but based first in Dundee - where Gary Lightbody and Mark McClelland were at university - and then in Glasgow, their rise has been gradual. Final Straw is their third album.

Judges' verdict: "An album with massive presence, immediately engaging the listener in the band's emotionally-charged songs."

JOSS STONE, The Soul Sessions

The success story of the 17-year-old Devon singer goes on. Inspired by her mother's record collection, her precocious talent was moulded into a remarkable album by the producer and soul legend Betty Wright and was critically-acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Judges' verdict: "Remarkable showcase of classic soul power."

THE STREETS, A Grand Don't Come For Free

Mike Skinner is set for the top with his single "Dry Your Eyes". His first album, Original Pirate Material, was Mercury-shortlisted in 2002 but his follow-up made him a spokesman for his generation.

Judges' verdict: "A touching, funny and gripping story of life's frustrations in modern Britain."

TY, Upwards

Star of the Montreux festival in Switzerland, London rapper Ty is building a European fanbase before taking on America. A great live performer. His second album is on the same Big Dada label that produced another Mercury shortlisted rhymer Roots Manuva.

Judges' verdict: "A very British rap record - diverse and invigoratingly upbeat."

AMY WINEHOUSE, Frank

Feisty North Londoner Winehouse, 20, has an extraordinary vocal range. Her debut album is inspired by soul and jazz greats and captures the flavour of urban Britain. The track "Stronger Than Me" won her an Ivor Novello award for best contemporary songwriter.

Judges' verdict: "Raw emotions and an original take on jazz and R&B."

ROBERT WYATT, Cuckooland

Having hit fame with Soft Machine in the late Sixties, Wyatt, 59, has worked with Brian Eno, Elvis Costello and Paul Weller over 50 years. His album is his first in six years, with elements of jazz, folk and pop.

Judges' verdict: "Robert Wyatt's take on the world is gloriously idiosyncratic, passionate, gentle and inspiring."

THE ZUTONS, Who Killed... The Zutons

New stars of the Liverpool scene, the five-piece are two years old but have played Glastonbury and T in the Park. Influenced by Sly and The Family Stone and Devo, their producer is Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds fame.

Judges' verdict: "Welcome to the exhilarating and spiky world of The Zutons, [with] catchy songs, primal guitars and saxophone."

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